Nuclear Fallout

Countless lives have been lost by disease, famine, wars, insects (mosquitos are the planet’s biggest killers).

Disasters happen throughout the world. Some natural such as earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides. Those of the manmade variety include dam breaches, transport related incidences, poor building design, and terrorism.

Planet Earth has an amazing ability to recover. Humans have the capacity to rebuild. However, one disaster that struck the former Soviet Union on 25 April 1986 will leave an indelible stain on Earth for decades if not centuries to come. The Soviet nuclear programme was a success. Expansion seen as the way forward. Unfortunately the poor quality of the infrastructure didn’t match that of their western counterparts.

Gateway to history

Early in the morning, a routine safety procedure focusing on the effects of a power blackout in No. 4 light water graphite moderated reactor at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine (then part of the USSR) went catastrophically wrong. A combination of poor design and human error meant the reactor flooded causing a reaction that led to the largest nuclear disaster at that time and since. The Soviet Union only acknowledged the disaster three days later when Sweden noted rising levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere. Due to the wind direction, Belarus was affected greatest but not received the same level of coverage or aid.

A multinational finance package has financed the building of a hangar-type structure that covers the hastily but wholly inadequate sarcophagus of concrete built over the reactor within days of the disaster. The New Safe Confinement, costing US$1.2 billion, is the largest structure in the world to have been built and then moved as a whole into place. This was important to reduce the level of radiation exposure on the construction team. The reactor is now being disassembled within its new sarcophagus by robotic technology before safe disposal.

Anastasia, a one-time visitor turned local guide at Reactor No. 4

I am not a physicist. Any further technical data would be a ‘cut and paste’ job from another website. I won’t be doing that. But the background is important to understand why anyone would want to visit a radioactive wasteland.

Firstly, the reader needs to understand that people live within the now designated 30 mile exclusion zone. Many are workers employed in the deconstruction of the site who stay within the zone for fifteen days, then fifteen off. in certain places, radiation is lower here than in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital 65 miles south; and a great deal lower than London. There are also the daily influx of tourist curious to see the calamitous consequences of that fateful night.

More surprisingly, residents evacuated from the area have returned. Many are older people who see the town of Chernobyl as their home. Dogs look well fed and healthy, and wildlife has also returned to the zone. Produce is grown in ‘non-hotspot’ locations.

The town of Chernobyl plays host to many moving tributes to both those who lost their lives and the many more who either volunteered or were mobilised by the State to halt the disaster and clear up after. These brave men and women, typically soldiers, firemen and miners had little idea of what they were entering into. They have become colloquially known as the ‘Liquidators’.

Memorial to the Liquidators

Only two people were killed that night; and although no official statistics were made public, a conservative number running into thousands died in the aftermouth.

In the local town of Pripyat, people started complaining of headaches and nausea. Few realised the implications of what had taken place. Confusion continued as the plant was managed from Moscow. Eventually the mass evacuation of Pripyat, a new thriving city and popular holiday retreat planning the opening of its’s new fairground with big wheel and dodgems, began. 49,000 were initially evacuated from the city, raising to 135,000 from a wider area within the year.

Dodgems amongst the chaos

The unopened fairground still stands, along with the shells of buildings; the hospital, the site of. The highest radioactive levels in Pripyat; the swimming pool, accommodation blocks; a school where books and gas masks adorn the desks. The latter is worthy of further note. The blast occurred at 01:23am and consequently the books and masks would not have been out. It is believed that unscrupulous journalist sensationalised the sites for increased drama.

School books and gas mask…journalistic tools

Chernobyl is a piece of modern European history; a monument to man’s inability to control its own destiny; and a testament to those brave Liquidators who ventured in to Armageddon without being aware of the consequences.

Is Chernobyl safe? Yes…well maybe! The super-sized mosquitoes have radioactive properties that will give you super-human powers!

Should you go? Yes…definitely.

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